Douglass football players crowded around Coach J.C. Pinkney on Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon, many comforting and other their heads after their 20-8 loss to Fort Hill in the Maryland 1A championship game.
Pinkney's mood was different, though. He smiled as he grabbed the finalist trophy and raised it with his right arm.
"No. 2 is not that bad right now, "Pinkney said.
Pinkney did not know whether the Eagles would make the playoffs entering the final season of inconsistent performances in Prince George's County play. But even with five starters injured, the Eagles reached their first state title by four years by snapping Dunbar's 23-game winning streak last week.
"I feel great," Pinkney said. "We just did not have enough gas in the tank to finish it off."
Douglass (8-5) dropped three consecutive games in October and clinched a playoff spot with a one-point victory over Northwestern in its regular season finale. Douglass won the Maryland 2A title in 2014 to finish the year 14-0, but this was the closest the Eagles came to that group of just 41 players on their roster.
The Eagles pride themselves on an old-school style, focusing on stingy defense and tough blocking. Douglass held Dunbar for six points last week, and the Eagles stuck around with Fort Hill (12-0), which has won six of the past six Maryland 1A titles. The Eagles did not generate much offense after scoring on their opening drive.
When Fort Hill quarterback Blake Beal crossed the line on the road, he lost his touch with his team.
"At the beginning of the playoffs, everyone started doubting us," Douglass wide receiver Malik Pettaway said. "After the ups and downs we had in the regular season, it felt great to come into the state championship and play here."
Rogers and his defensive teammates cried as they watched the final three minutes from the bench. Before Douglass players started the postgame handshake line, Pinkney grouped them together and tried to raise their spirits with a speech.
Dougass will return the majority of its starters next season, and Pettaway said this experience will raise expectations for the Eagles to be one of the county's top teams.
"This was slated for a down year," Pinkney said. "It would not surprise me if we're back here next year and after that."